Passing of the Frontier by Emerson Hough

Passing of the Frontier by Emerson Hough

Author:Emerson Hough
Language: eng
Format: epub
ISBN: 9781620118627
Publisher: Duke Classics

Chapter VII - The Indian Wars


It might well be urged against the method employed in these pages that, although we undertook to speak of the last American frontier, all that we really thus far have done has been to describe a series of frontiers from the Missouri westward. In part this is true. But it was precisely in this large, loose, and irregular fashion that we actually arrived at our last frontier. Certainly our westbound civilization never advanced by any steady or regular process. It would be a singularly illuminating map—and one which I wish we might show—which would depict in different colors the great occupied areas of the West, with the earliest dates of their final and permanent occupation. Such a map as this would show us that the last frontier of America was overleaped and left behind not once but a score of times.

The land between the Missouri and the Rockies, along the Great Plains and the high foothills, was crossed over and forgotten by the men who were forging on into farther countries in search of lands where fortune was swift and easy. California, Oregon, all the early farming and timbering lands of the distant Northwest—these lay far beyond the Plains; and as we have noted, they were sought for, even before gold was dreamed of upon the Pacific Slope.

So here, somewhere between the Missouri and the Rockies, lay our last frontier, wavering, receding, advancing, gaining and losing, changing a little more every decade—and at last so rapidly changed as to be outworn and abolished in one swift decade all its own.

This unsettled land so long held in small repute by the early Americans, was, as we have pointed out, the buffalo range and the country of the Horse Indians—the Plains tribes who lived upon the buffalo. For a long time it was this Indian population which held back the white settlements of Kansas, Nebraska, the Dakotas, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado. But as men began to work farther and farther westward in search of homes in Oregon, or in quest of gold in California or Idaho or Montana, the Indian question came to be a serious one.

To the Army, soon after the Civil War, fell the task of exterminating, or at least evicting, the savage tribes over all this unvalued and unknown Middle West. This was a process not altogether simple. For a considerable time the Indians themselves were able to offer very effective resistance to the enterprise. They were accustomed to living upon that country, and did not need to bring in their own supplies; hence the Army fought them at a certain disadvantage. In sooth, the Army had to learn to become half Indian before it could fight the Indians on anything like even terms. We seem not so much to have coveted the lands in the first Indian-fighting days; we fought rather for the trails than for the soil. The Indians themselves had lived there all their lives, had conquered their environment, and were happy in it.


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